Mayor de Blasio announced that he will be replacing the “two-case” rule for public school closures in the coming days at his press event on Monday.
The mayor said that he wanted to announce the decision to replace the rule before he was ready to actually release a new policy because it would be important to parents making their decision about whether to sign their children up for in-person learning, the timeline for which now extends through Friday.
The rule requires a public school building to close for at least 10 days after two unlinked Covid cases are detected. Critics have argued for months that the rule has proved a major hurdle to maintaining stable in-person schedules without reflecting the most up-to-date research about Covid transmission.
“The way to beat Covid is not by closing schools excessively but by suppressing transmission inside and outside of schools through a focus on fundamentals,” said Dave Chokshi, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, at the Monday press event.
Media attention has built around the issue recently as medical experts have told ProPublica, among other publications, that the rule does not comport with evidence-based science, and called it arbitrary.
The mayor had promised that the city would reevaluate the two-case policy in early February, but has yet to come to agreement with the city’s public teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers.
“We’re going to work with the unions that represent all school employees — educators and school staff — on the new rule, and again, we’ll be announcing that new rule and implementing it within the coming days,” de Blasio said on Monday.
Asked if he would have the new policy ready by the end of the opt-in period Friday, de Blasio declined to give a concrete time frame. He also did not give specifics about how many cases would form the threshold for the new rule.
“I’ve talked to lots of parents. I was a public school parent. I don’t think they’re out there with banners saying they want it to be X number of cases or Y number of cases. I think what parents feel, and they’re right, is that the two-case rule has outlived its usefulness,” de Blasio said.
Shortly after the mayor made the announcement Monday, the UFT released a statement pushing back on de Blasio’s remarks.
“A proclamation is not a plan. The city can’t change the two-case rule without Albany’s approval,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who has supported the rule, said in a prepared statement. He added that the union will continue to discuss the issue with the city.
In response to Mulgrew’s assertion, the state Department of Health clarified that no state guidance requires the “two case” rule.
Last summer, “we required every school district to work with their local health department and bring together teachers, families and students for a conversation on reopening to develop plans that worked within our guidance,” wrote DOH spokesperson Jill Montag in a statement to the Chronicle. “That remains true, and any school system that wants to change their operations should work with their local health department and ensure they have another community conversation.”